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Inventors, researchers and technology savvy small business owners: Uncle Sam wants to help you

Could yours be the perfect invention to aid U.S. combat soldiers in Iraq? Have you created a vaccine that could possibly rid the world of one of its deadly diseases? Do you think that you could possibly be the next Bill Gates? Perhaps your ideas or inventions are not as grand as these, but you need a little assistance with funding your idea and making your dream a reality. If the answer is yes, then the federal government may be able to help you.

For small businesses seeking to advance their technological inventions in the commercial marketplace, the U.S. Small Business Administration administers the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The SBIR program is a highly competitive three-phase award program that encourages small businesses to explore their technological potential and helps them profit from their inventions.

The SBIR program has helped thousands of small businesses to compete for federal research and development awards. Their contributions have enhanced the nation’s defense, protected our environment, advanced health care, and improved our ability to manage information and manipulate data.

By reserving a percentage of federal research and development funds for small businesses, the SBIR program protects small businesses and enables them to compete on the same level as larger companies.

Every federal department or agency with an external research and development budget greater than $100 million participates in the SBIR program, including the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services and Transportation, Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and National Science Foundation. Each agency is required to set aside no less than 2.5 percent of its overall external research and development budget to use either as an SBIR grant or contract.

These agencies issue requests for proposals for specific R&D projects they want accomplished, and accept unsolicited proposals for other projects. The SBA collects solicitation information from participating agencies and publishes it quarterly in a Pre-Solicitation Announcement.

Following submission of proposals, agencies make SBIR awards based on small business qualification, degree of innovation, technical merit and future market potential. Small businesses that receive awards or grants then begin a three-phase program.

• Phase 1 is the startup phase. Awards of up to $100,000 for approximately six months support exploration of the technical merit or feasibility of an idea or technology.

• Phase 2 awards of up to $750,000, for as many as two years, expand Phase 1 results. During this time, the R&D work is performed and the developer evaluates commercialization potential. Only Phase 1 award winners are considered for Phase 2.

• Phase 3 is the period during which Phase 2 innovation moves from the laboratory into the marketplace. No SBIR funds support this phase. The small business must find funding in the private sector or other non-SBIR federal agency funding.

A related program, STTR is coordinated by the SBA with other federal agencies spending $1 billion or more in extramural research and development, including the U.S. Departments of Defense, Energy, and Health and Human Services, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and National Science Foundation.

Like the SBIR program, the STTR program is also a high technology-based three-phase award program. The STTR program encourages cooperative research and development projects conducted jointly by a small business STTR awardee and a research institution that is either a nonprofit institution or a federally funded research and development center.

To learn more about the SBIR and STTR programs, visit SBA’s Web site at www.sba.gov/sbir.


Small Business Success

El Borrego Mexican Restaurant

SCORE Counselor Elias Sheinberg assisted mother Rosario Sotelo and daughter Rodnia Navarro in laying the foundation for the El Borrego Mexican restaurant, which opened last October after almost two years of planning and preparations. The restaurant specializes in authentic Mexican food from the state of Hidalgo near Mexico City, offering specialty dishes such as barbacoa, hand-made corn tortillas, chilaquiles, and rice and beans as part of its menu.

Sheinberg, who was a highly successful businessman in Mexico for many years before turning over his businesses to his sons, moving to La Jolla and becoming a SCORE counselor, helped get El Borrego going initially by recommending an immigration lawyer so that Rosario could obtain an investment visa. In addition to assisting them with writing a business plan, he also recommended a bank, an accountant, and a lawyer to create their corporation. He also helped by locating a site for the restaurant, negotiating a favorable lease and recommending the services of a former SCORE client to handle the building’s remodeling.

Seven months after making the decision to move forward with their business, Rosario and Rodnia opened El Borrego and in just four months of operation, the restaurant has already become a popular dining spot, sometimes with a 30-minute wait to be seated.

“Elias gave us the confidence we needed to get started, and dedicated a lot of time in providing personalized counseling and showing us how to set up our business, obtain the proper permits, and explain how things work here. Without his help, the process would have taken much longer and we probably wouldn’t have opened when we did, which means we’d be losing money.”

Sheinberg is only too happy he’s able to offer his guidance and expertise to the new business owners and says he will continue to counsel them as they refine the operation and begin formulating future business plans.

“I’m very proud of the effort Rosario and Rodnia have put into this venture and the progress they’ve made in a short period of time,” Sheinberg said. “We’re all very satisfied with how beautifully the restaurant looks and hopefully in a year or so they can open another one and possibly even franchise it.”

“Because of SCORE, we can be our own bosses and can provide jobs for others,” Sotelo said. “We feel fortunate that we’re able to have a nice place where customers leave very satisfied and have enjoyed dishes from a part of Mexico that not too many people around here know about. We tell everybody how wonderful SCORE has been and how much easier they made it for us to establish our first restaurant in San Diego.”

In addition to on-site, online or in-office counseling, SCORE volunteer counselors also conduct a variety of low-cost workshops that address many of the essential techniques necessary for managing a successful business. For additional information about SCORE’s many educational workshops, or to learn about SCORE’s free business counseling services, please call (619) 557-7272 or visit online at www.score-sandiego.org.

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